Kamala Harris prepares for central role in
Bidenís White House
By Alexandra Jaffe
The Associated Press
January 19, 2021
WASHINGTON ó Kamala Harris will make history on Wednesday
when she becomes the nationís first female vice president ó and
the first Black woman and the first woman of South Asian descent
to hold that office. But thatís only where her boundary-breaking
With the confluence of crises confronting Joe Bidenís
administration ó and an evenly divided senate in which she would
deliver the tie-breaking vote ó Harris is shaping up to be a
central player in addressing everything from the coronavirus
pandemic to criminal justice reform.
Symone Sanders, Harrisí chief spokeswoman, said that while
the vice president-electís portfolio hasnít been fully defined
yet, she has a hand in all aspects of Bidenís agenda.
"There are pieces that Biden may specifically ask her to
champion, but outside of that she is at the table for
everything, involved in everything, and giving input and
feedback and being a supportive partner to him on all pieces,"
People working closely with Harris on the transition resist
the idea of siloing her into any specific issue early on,
because the sheer number of challenges the Biden administration
faces means it will be "all hands on deck" during their early
months. They say sheíll be involved in all four of the major
priorities theyíve set out: turning around the economy, tackling
COVID-19, and addressing climate change and racial justice.
"She has a voice in all of those. She has an opinion in all
those areas. And it will probably get to a point where she is
concentrating on some of the areas more specifically," Sanders
said. "But right now, I think what weíre faced with in this
country is so big, itís all hands on deck."
Harris has been closely involved with all of Bidenís biggest
decisions since winning the election in November, joining him
for every one of his key meetings focused on cabinet picks, the
COVID-19 relief bill, security issues, and more. The two talk
over the phone nearly every day, and she travels to Delaware
sometimes multiple times a week for transition events and
Those involved in the transition say both have taken
seriously Bidenís insistence that he wants Harris to be the
"last voice in the room" on key decisions. Biden is known to
turn to Harris first during meetings to ask for her opinion or
perspective on the matter at hand.
Biden and Harris knew each other prior to the 2020
presidential campaign in part through Harrisí friendship with
Bidenís deceased son, Beau. But they never worked closely
Since joining the ticket, and particularly since the
election, Harris has made efforts to deepen their relationship
and is in frequent contact with the president-elect, people
close to Harris say. That personal relationship, according to
presidential historian Joel Goldstein, will be key to their
success as working partners.
"The relationship of the vice president to the president is
the most important relationship. Establishing mutual
understanding and trust is really a key to a successful vice
presidency," Goldstein said.
Goldstein pointed to Biden and President Barack Obamaís
relationship as a potential model for the incoming team.
Biden and Obama were from similarly different backgrounds and
generations and also entered the White House with a relatively
fresh working relationship. But their relationship and mutual
understanding grew throughout the presidency, and Obama trusted
Biden with some of his administrationís biggest endeavors, like
the implementation of the 2009 Recovery Act and the troop
withdrawal from Iraq.
Harris is said to be looking at Bidenís vice presidency as a
guide for her own.
But unlike Biden during his first term, Harris will face
constant questions about her political future. While Biden has
skirted questions about whether he plans to run for reelection,
at 78 heíll be the oldest president in history, leaving
questions about whether heíll retire at the end of his term.
That would make Harris the immediate frontrunner in any 2024
Democratic presidential primary.
Early in the vice presidential vetting process, her potential
presidential ambitions gave some Biden allies pause. But since
her selection, Harris has proven a loyal partner to Biden,
rarely if ever contradicting him publicly.
Still, California representative Barbara Lee, who was the
first Congressional Black Caucus member to endorse in the
primary when she backed Harris, said the vice president-elect
isnít afraid to speak her mind.
"Sheís no shrinking violet," Lee said. "If she believes that
one decision should be made versus another sheís gonna weigh in
and give her thoughts and opinions."
Biden has a personal affection for the work of diplomacy and
deep relationships with global leaders that Harris canít match.
But aides say sheíll be deeply involved in the administrationís
diplomatic priorities simply because of the sheer amount of
issues that will take up Bidenís time. She may also be given a
particular aspect of the administrationís coronavirus response
One of her main priorities early on is certain to be the
passage of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill Biden has
announced. Those working with Harris on the transition say that
while Biden will be intimately involved with ushering the
package through the senate because of his longstanding
relationships with longer-serving lawmakers, Harris knows the
newer members and can help build fresh relationships in
The first few months of the Biden administration will be
focused on COVID-19 and the economy. But Harris is certain to
face scrutiny ó and pressure ó from advocates to ensure the
perspectives of Black and brown Americans are reflected in those
policies and the Biden White Houseís priorities.
Leah Daughtry, a former chief of staff at the Democratic
National Committee, said Harris will make a difference simply by
being in the room.
"The fact that Kamala Harris is a Black woman, is a woman of
Indian ancestry, is a woman, automatically makes her different
from every other vice president this country has ever seen," she
said. "That combination of experiences brings a set of values
and lived experiences into a room where they have not previously
existed. And that can only be good for this American democracy."
But as South Carolina representative Jim Clyburn put it,
"There will be a lot of weight on those shoulders."
"Those of us who come to these positions, we come to them
knowing full well that we have a burden to make sure that we do
it in such a way, that there will be people coming behind us,"
Clyburn also acknowledged that Harris could also be a
flashpoint for controversy among the portion of President Donald
Trumpís followers who are motivated by racial animus, which
Clyburn said contributed to the deadly attack on the U.S.
"Theyíre still holding on to a lot of animus about Barack
Obama, and theyíre gonna transfer it to her, just like they
transferred it to others here in this building," Clyburn said.
"And theyíre never gonna get beyond that."
But Harrisí allies say as a child of civil-rights activists,
and a Black woman whoís spent her life confronting and trying to
address racism and inequality, navigating those pressures as
vice president will come as second nature for her.
"Kamala Harris didnít just fall out of the Harvard Law School
like Josh Hawley or Ted Cruz or somebody like that," said Bakari
Sellers, referencing two Republican senators who objected to the
congressional certification of Bidenís win. (Hawley graduated
from Yale Law School.)
Sellers, a former South Carolina state lawmaker and an early
Harris endorser, likened her to other civil-rights trailblazers.
"She comes from the same lineage as Fannie Lou Hamer and
Shirley Chisholm and Ella Baker," he said. "I mean, sheís built